This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for quite some time. After stints at agencies and on the corporate side I’ve learned how to manage PR agencies to get the best service and results. When talking with new business owners I often discover that this can be a real challenge for them if they are not a communication professional or have a PR background. In answering their questions and providing guidance on how to manage an agency I’m often coming back to several key points.

First you need to find the right agency. It sounds simple but I cannot stress this more. PR agencies know the people you need to connect with and manage those relationships. Building new ones from scratch takes time. If your campaign is short and immediate then you need to get the right team on board quick. Be sure you meet every team member that is handling your brand.

Do they have a clear and measurable plan? All successful projects are documented and define expectations during the planning and launch phase. Ask about the roles and responsibilities of the agency’s team and how it’s communicated. Ensure your goals and achievements can be accurately measured. It has to be more than high level, broad statements. There needs to be language that dictates a plan of action that can be judged on results and deliverables.

Generating awareness and building trust are what’s needed to have great PR. But what are the deliverables of these efforts? The value of connections, their influence can be easily researched today and can be quantified in terms of size, scope and level of influence. How do they demonstrate ROI for the day to day conversations that lead to future placements and impressions? Is it a contact sheet, a summary or both? How often will you review the data, daily, weekly or monthly? Everything is measurable, it is the responsibility of the agency team to qualify, quantify and measure their actions and corresponding worth.

What is the change management process and how does it affect the billing? All good plans may need modifications and this is most true for long term, multi-stage projects. If it sounds too complex, break it down into a few smaller phases like a launch or promotional event. A clear understanding how to manage your budget while at the same time dealing with change is crucial. Ask the agency how they factor revision time into design? At what stages are you involved so that your feedback is incorporated into any changes?

How can they make the best use of your time? Carve out a specific time each week to communicate with the team as a whole. Get as much feedback on what your customers and audience is saying from those that are doing the work. This also allows them to ask you questions they may be facing in the direction of the product. Also this builds teamwork and brand enthusiasm among the team.

Managing an outsource service requires your time and diligence if you want to get real value. It can be a bit of a gamble if you are starting from scratch. You can burn through several vendors in a short period of time or you can find a great one after doing a thorough search and defining what you want. And remember PR is not advertising. If you want your message to appear the way you want it each and every time, buy an ad. If you want to build an audience of key influencers and provide insight into your brand, hire a PR firm.

I always tell prospective agencies that I am both their best friend and their worst nightmare. I’m their friend because I can help get them in the right direction quickly with getting started and knowledge transfer. I’m the nightmare when they slip up and try to shake the blame instead of letting me know how they plan to address the issue or problem. Rarely am I the latter. I am always interested in how I can help the agency team help me! That’s what I’m paying for!

What tips do you have when looking for a PR agency? How do you manage their time and efforts?

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald started Square Jaw Media to document strategies and techniques he had used over his experience working in marketing and communications since 1990. During this time Brian wrote about many of the exciting Raleigh social media events where great knowledge was being shared and tries to share some of the tips and tricks. . Read Brian's full bio.